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NASCAR Cup Chicago Street Course

Marks: Chicago win showed Project91 is an "elite effort"

Justin Marks took his "shower idea" and turned it into a race-winning endeavor with the Project91 program.

Marks is an innovator and a disrupter. The things he and those who work for him have done since forming the Trackhouse Racing Team have rocked the NASCAR world.

We could go on for hours about what he's doing differently in the business side of the sport, but most importantly, it's delivering results on the track.

From putting both cars in the 2022 playoffs and nearly winning the championship in just their second year as an organization, or the wall-ride seen around the world — a move that will likely never be topped.

Putting all the pieces together

Then there's Project91. A part-time, third entry for the race team made entirely up of shop employees with other responsibilities who don't normally get to travel to the track each weekend. Its stated mission is to feature international racing champions and give them a landing spot in the world of NASCAR.

Publicity for the sport and crossovers between prominent forms of racing are great, but in the end, the goal is still to win.

2007 Formula 1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen was the first to take up Marks' offer with the Project 91 initiative, running Watkins Glen in 2022 and COTA in 2023. Since then, we've seen the Toyota-backed 23XI Racing follow suit with a third car driven by Travis Pastrana at Daytona, and Kamui Kobayashi later this year.

But Trackhouse Racing's Project91 was the first, and they were about to turn this concept into a race-winning idea. Making his NASCAR Cup Series debut on the Chicago Street Course, New Zealander and three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen won the inaugural event. 

Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Trackhouse Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Trackhouse Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: David Rosenblum / NKP / Motorsport Images

"It just puts fuel in the tank as far as we're trying to build something here where the greatest drivers in the world have a place that they can call home if they want to try NASCAR racing," said Marks after the Chicago win.

"For us to put it in Victory Lane, it just shows, I think, the world that this Project91 is a very, very elite effort. It's not about vanity. It's not about just sponsorship. It's not about social media. It's about putting a program together that can actually win and tell great stories.

"I think the fact that we put it in Victory Lane, it just galvanizes our mission in trying to attract the greatest motorsport talent in the world."

Kimi Raikkonen, Trackhouse Racing, Onx Homes / iLOQ Chevrolet Camaro, Darian Grubb, Trackhouse Racing

Kimi Raikkonen, Trackhouse Racing, Onx Homes / iLOQ Chevrolet Camaro, Darian Grubb, Trackhouse Racing

Photo by: Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Now, Van Gisbergen seems open to making the shift to NASCAR on a full-time basis. What was unique about how the SVG deal came together is that the sponsor actually joined before any driver was announced, allowing Marks to essentially pick whoever he wanted for the seat. He believes the win will attract more sponsors and international racing stars to the program.

"From a commercial standpoint it was a big weekend because we had a company come in that said, we want to sponsor Project91," explained Marks. "You go get the driver. It wasn't attached to a driver. Enhance Health came in and said, we love this concept and we want to sponsor it.

"That's a big moment for our company, is that actually a partner looked at it and said, we believe in this Project91 thing siloed from everything else. We really love it and we want to be a part of it.

"I think as far as what it does, it just hopefully -- I think it just makes Project91 be on a lot more people's radar internationally, and we can attract -- continue to attract the top talent in the world ... I think as far as scaling Project91, it's a two or three race a year program, and beyond that it starts to be kind of a lift. It starts to sort of feel like a third team."

Marks is careful to not let Project91 pull resources away from the other two cars that are battling for the championship, and they seem be doing just fine. The week before Van Gisbergen's triumph in Chicago, Ross Chastain won in Nashville.

Project91 success is good for Trackhouse ... and great for NASCAR

Ultimately, the success of Project91 is great for Trackhouse, but even better for the sport of NASCAR as a whole. Bringing in names like Raikkonen and Van Gisbergen also brings in new eyeballs and interest from people who wouldn't normally bother to watch a NASCAR race. 

Garage 56 at Le Mans did something similar, putting NASCAR in front of race fans who normally wouldn't get the chance to see it in person. Marks thinks outside the box in everything he does, and the positive impact he and his organization have had on NASCAR cannot be understated. 

"I think the more people globally that we can get tuned in and excited about this sport, the better it is for all of us, and I think today was a step in that direction."

Currently, there are no other races planned for Project91 for the rest of the year. "This is it," declared Marks. But based on Chicago's result, I feel as though that may change very soon.

Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Trackhouse Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Race winner Shane van Gisbergen, Trackhouse Racing, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: David Rosenblum / NKP / Motorsport Images

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